Photo Credit Ashton Pina
A pinch of Gus Van Sant with a dash of James Cameron, Rihanna, and Beyoncé mixed in with Lee Daniels and there you have it – the artistic influences recipe of Ashton Pina.
Pina is an actor, director, entertainer and fifth generation descendant from the Cape Verde Islands that hails from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Pina’s ultimate goal is to become the next Walt Disney making films that “enlighten, entertain and engage the world through innovative and inspiring creations.”
In 2010, he graduated from Florida International University (FIU) with a Bachelor in the Fine Arts. After living in Orlando, he relocated to New York, where he was granted the opportunity of a lifetime to study at Actors Movement Studio with Lisa Dalton, Janice Orlandi, and Lyod Williamson. Pina is a student at City College and an inaugural Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!) artist. Pina has worked with filmmaker Nelson George and pop diva Beyonce. Currently, he stars and directs the outrageously funny web series called “The Out Crowd.”
Pina is set to begin production on his short film The Brothers Texas. The film tells the story of three brothers who struggle to survive on their own after their mother tragically abandons them. Pina hopes to submit it to the Cannes Film Festival next year. PrideIndex talked with this BAAD! artist about the love and support of his family, why he became an actor and the adrenaline rush he gets from performing in front of an audience.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): How are you doing today sir?
ASHTON PINA (AP): Good, thank you. How is your day going?
PI: It’s going much better now that I am settled in from the cold.
AP: Alright, cool.
PI: I’ve just had a chance to read through your last email. I was prepared to talk about your web series The Brothers Texas; however, it’s not a web series at all. It’s a short film.
AP: Yeah. The Brothers Texas is a short film. I’m in The Out Crowd, a web series people sometimes get the two mixed up. The Brothers Texas is my thesis film from graduate school from the City College of New York, so it’s my little baby right now.
PI: When you say the word “thesis” as a student, I could just image a small level of anxiety coming over you because there’s a grade associated with the final outcome of the film.
AP: (LAUGHS) Anxiety is a good word, but I am doing well with the preparations, so anxiety has not quite yet hit me. I am very anxious and somewhat nervous. Yes, I have made stuff before, but this is the first time I have a legit budget and crew. I’m making my dreams come true. My first few projects were me and a few friends making a film. This time I have all the key positions filled in an actual crew.
PI: When you use the words “legit” and “crew,” do the words “paid gig” enter into the equation?
AP: Yes, exactly. It is not like I am rich giving away a big amount of money, but it is something. I know some other classmates are not paying their crew, but I am. I am feeding them and giving them a really good set. I am an actor and I know that you have to give the crew a good experience. As an actor, I know what I look for in a position, so I know that in order to make the magic happen, you have to have things in order.
PI: That’s wonderful. Let’s take a step back and talk about where you are from and where you grew up?
AP: Originally, I am from New Bedford, Massachusetts, an hour south of Boston. That’s where all of my family lives. When I was thirteen, I moved to Orlando, Florida. I lived there for about six years. That’s where I really found myself. I came out of the closet and I was developing myself as a man. That’s why I say that I’ve found myself in Orlando. I moved to Miami to finish my degree at Florida International University. From there, I made my decision that the entertainment industry was what I wanted. I want an entertainment empire and I knew what I needed to do, so I moved to New York. I have been living here for about three and a half years. Originally, my family came from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. My grandmother speaks Creole more like a Portuguese Creole – not French. I have not been to Cape Verde islands, but I’ve heard it is a lovely place with beautiful people.
PI: When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
AP: I always knew that I wanted to be an actor. I remember growing up and looking at Sesame Street and thinking I want to be on TV like Big Bird. Growing up in Massachusetts, there is not much art there. I knew about the sports traditions because my big brother and cousins were heavily into sports.
When I moved to Orlando, I was open and much freer as a performer. That’s where I blossomed. I got heavily into acting while at FIU. I had always been a performer so to speak. I was on the step team in high school so performing was always there. At FIU I majored in hospitality and acting. I had to take writing classes and then realized that I had stories to tell – great stories to tell- and I knew that as an actor I wanted to get all of the work I could get, so I knew that I needed to find a way to create my own. I knew that I came off as the boy next door and I would be type cast if Hollywood were to ever look at me. So by creating my own jobs, I would do the kind of stuff that I would challenge myself.
I wrote The Brothers Texas as my first script back in 2009 and now I am here in 2013 and it is coming to life. I start shooting on November 7th, and I’d like to present it at the Cannes Film Festival. It has come full circle.
PI: Let’s talk about The Brothers Texas, it’s themes, and where did you find your muse for it? What do you want audiences to retain?
AP: I have an older brother and a little brother, so I am the middle brother. The story was somewhat derived from me and what I am. My mother worked so much that as a single mom it almost felt like she was never there. I was left to do the dishes, help my brother with his homework, and make sure that his clothes were ready for school. So at times, it felt like I was raising my younger brother. That’s where the idea came from and obviously the movie is a lot more dramatic with the mom actually abandoning her sons. The mother in the film is quite the opposite of my mom. My mom has always been very supportive of me and helped me no matter what I needed. She told me, “Ashton, I always knew that you were here to do something great.” That was wonderful because it helped me to believe in myself even more. If she, my mother sees something’s special in me, then I know that I must be here on this earth to do something special and create great bodies of work, and that’s what The Brothers Texas is. That’s what I want people to understand that family is going to be there no matter what. And that love is love. Once you have the support of you family or the people that you love, anything is possible.
PI: You are like the character Dallas, in The Brothers Texas and you brought your own experiences to this story, would your older sibling agree with your assessment that he’s the irresponsible brother?
AP: (Laughs) He is a stay at home dad who takes care of his own son; he used to say, “Ashton, I look up to you.” I cannot say that’s being irresponsible because he’s a stay at home dad. I do not have my own kid that’s a different life.
PI: In the press release for your film, you said there were several millions of kids in the US that are being raised by their siblings. Where did you get that statistic from and why did you go there in this movie?
AP: I got that stat from the United States Census Bureau. When I first saw the stat, I was a little bit blown away because little did I know that this issue was real. I knew that there were real families out there. I knew that it was not just my story, but three million stories? I knew that there were families where there was an older sibling that would take care of the younger ones when the mom wanted to go out or when the mom was working. When I was figuring out which story to tell for my thesis, I chose this one because it was the story that needed to be told. It is the prevalent story when I look at movies like The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, the story of two little boys left to raise each other after their parents abandons them. When I saw that movie, I knew this was the right story to tell.
PI: Do you hope to someday become a father?
AP: I hope to someday raise five or six kids. I see a vision of me with this big long table with all of my kids on each side and we’re passing around food. And this brother and sister are arguing and someone has a new boyfriend at the table. I’ve always wanted a big family. And for me my point on this earth is to leave a legacy through my own offspring. I’m here to pro-create and leave offspring that will do better than me.
PI: Let’s step back and talk about your training as an actor. Do you also have the singing and dancing down?
AP: My professional training started in high school; I was on the step team. We were the best in the state. I was in choir in middle school. Once I got to college, I decided that I wanted to be an actor, so I trained there. They really put an emphasis on using the body to tell stories. That’s what dance is. When I moved to New York, I took ballet classes. I took a couple of courses at the Actor’s Movement Studio and learned different techniques. Now I am at City College of New York, where I am learning directing and filmmaking so all of my classes are about writing scripts, and editing. This summer I had the opportunity to go to UCLA and had the chance to work in a few student projects there. I try to stay as broad as possible. I need to have a basics knowledge about everything that’s why I’ m going to get my MBA afterwards. I’ve got my creative technique down and that’s the final icing to help me to take over the entertainment world.
PI: Give me a brief rundown on some of the projects that you have worked on.
AP: One of my first projects was in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Miami. I played a Negro servant. I learned what it was like to be on stage, and I did some improvisation. Then, I moved to New York, where I had the opportunity to play Oswald in King Lear. It was crazy because it seems like people remember me for the part. After King Lear I auditioned for other parts and people remembered my portrayal as Oswald someone once told me it was their favorite character. I continued to do off Broadway work, focused in ethnic theater such as Latino Theaters and Black Theaters. I just did a play called Neon Baby. It was about the 80s, New York gay scene I played Latrice, a sassy drag queen, fashionable, and fabulous was her words. It followed the vogue ball house of Xtravaganza. More recently, I was in Beyonce’s video called “The Best Thing I Ever Had.” I did not get cut into the video because Beyonce changed the style. When I first signed on, it was more going to be about the prom scene, but ended up about the wedding scene. If you watch the video now, you will see the prom scene for all but a couple of seconds, so all the things that I shot with that are still in Beyonce’s hard drive. (Laughs)
I also worked as a Production assistant on the Monica’s video. And I have worked with filmmaker Nelson George on his film Migration; it should be out soon. I directed the web series called The Out Crowd. That’s kind of my fun piece. Liki Wright, the producer/writer, reached out to me after seeing a video I had directed. When I got the script for The Out Crowd I thought, “That Marshall character is really like me and I want to make it come to life.” I’ve done a mixture of short films plays. I do not like to say “no” and that’s one thing that I can really get myself into trouble with.
PI: You’re also a resident artist for the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!)?
AP: Yes, it’s for my play called WERQ! The Dragsical. It’s my original work that premiered there for the outright festival which they have every year. WERQ! The Dragsical is a coming of drag tale about a young boy who has always had dreams about becoming a drag queen. He comes into a drag family which pretty much shows him the ropes. He learns how to walk in high heels and learns how to put his make up on. It has all these drag performances throughout the show. After Dragsical premiered, they said that they were starting a program for BAAD! Artists and they wanted me to become an inaugural member. I am developing Dragsical even more, so it’s coming back in June of 2014. It will be a bigger and more fabulous production.
PI: If you could only do one thing, act in films, act or stage or direct/produce videos, which one would you, choose?
AP: If I could only do one? (Sighs) The reason why I continue to do my schooling is because I never wanted to do one thing. I never want to be in a put in a box. If I really had to answer, one I would say that I would have to choose acting because as an actor I can be someone that I am not.
On stage or on television or film? (Laughs) There is one thing I like about the lights. I love walking onto a stage and feeling the warmth feeling the breath of the audience. That’s something that film could never give. The stage gives me a high, a rush of adrenaline, and once I hear people claps, then I know this is what I am supposed to be doing.
PI: Name three at least three people that have had the most influence over your artistic style.
AP: My favorites are Gus Van Sant because I too want to be known for taking risks with the stories that I tell. I like James Cameron because he is innovative and Lee Daniels because he is not afraid to tell stories that relate to him. Lastly, I would add in Rihanna because she is edgy.
PI: What is your ultimate goal as a performer?
AP: I want to be the next Walt Disney because I want to make people happy with my creations.